Back in February, Sen. Marco Rubio explained why he opposed the Violence Against Women Act:

I could not support the final, entire legislation that contains new provisions that could have potentially adverse consequences. Specifically, this bill would mandate the diversion of a portion of funding from domestic violence programs to sexual assault programs.

Rubio has this idea, apparently, that different types of abuse have nothing to do with one another. Not a surprising conclusion in a world that’s determined to paint all abuse as isolated incidences committed by monsters, but that’s not reality. Often, sexual abuse is present in violent relationships.

No one wants to talk about the fact that different types of abuse are connected because that means challenging the very society–ripe with hierarchies that enforce themselves with violence–that we live in.

Today, I’m discussing spiritual abuse as part of a Spiritual Abuse Awareness Week that some fellow bloggers are hosting. Also this week, Rachel Held Evans will be hosting a more general discussion of abuse (which I will be guest posting for) and Elora NIcole will be sharing the anonymous stories of survivors.

With all these thoughts of abuse in general going through my head, I think about how ridiculous statements like Rubio’s sound. As if we can end violence against women without ending sexual assault.

Truth is, the violences that women (and other oppressed groups) face often stem from the same root–a deeper violence that questions the legitimacy of their very humanity.

I don’t want us to miss this point while we talk about the different types of abuse that people face, inside and outside of the church. Abuse happens, and society either ignores or accepts it because there is an assault on humanity that says certain bodies are objects, or are public property. An assault that paints some bodies as worthless, gross, weird, animal-like, sinful, collateral, too sexual, needing to be taught a lesson, etc. 

Religion is far from the only institution that perpetuates this kind of abuse, but spiritual abuse can be a powerful tool for painting some groups as less important than others and therefore “deserving” of violence.

This happens in obvious cases such as the Southern Baptist Church supporting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or in the many church groups that advocate hitting children who misbehave.

It also happens more subtly in ways that I don’t think most leaders (though when you hear stories like Jack Schaap’s, you wonder…) or church members intend.

Here’s where my own story comes in. I grew up in church and grew up learning many things about myself and about my body and about the way the world is. I also ended up in an abusive relationship when I was 16.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I was physically, verbally, and sexually abused in that relationship, but little thinking about how I was spiritually abused. My ex-boyfriend used my own deeply-held religious beliefs to make me think that what he did to me was okay. It was easy for him to convince me, too, because I had been absorbing abusive ideas from the churches I’d attended my whole life.

I will be writing in more detail about how my idea of who God was affected what I accepted as love. But my churches growing up also fed me dangerous ideas about who was, what my body was, and what my place in the world was.

I was a woman, the church told me, so I had to be passive, meek, submissive, caring and nurturing, and endlessly patient and forgiving. A man, on the other hand, was just naturally aggressive, out-of-control, and sexual. These were God-given traits.

My abuser, knowing this, played on those, even sometimes calling my relationship with God into question when I didn’t live up to my role.

My church also taught me that I was worthless. From the sermons the pastors preached to the books that my youth pastors recommended. Because I was not a virgin I was what the Christian dating book, Dateable, would call “dollar store leftovers.” 

My abuser, knowing this, told me constantly that no one else would want me so I had better stay with him. That I was already impure and couldn’t be fixed so I might as well let him do whatever he wanted with my body.

My church taught me that I was responsible for men’s actions. That dressing immodestly could make men lust after me.

My abuser, knowing this, blamed me when he sexually assaulted me. He told me it was my fault for being too sexy, even in the Baptist school-approved outfit I was wearing.

All violence is connected.

I’m positive that the churches I grew up in did not want their teachings to be used by abusers to support abuse.

Too bad. That’s not how it works.

Those teachings were violence in and of themselves. They did violence to my humanity. And in doing that violence to my humanity, they sent the message to abusers that I did not have to be treated as human.

Churches don’t have to be as cult-like and controlling as Driscoll’s Mars Hill or First Baptist Church of Hammond to be abusive. By using language about groups–whether it’s women, children, LGBT people, or people of different colors, cultures, countries, or religions–that does violence to their humanity, they commit spiritual abuse. And spiritual abuse won’t confine itself to the pulpit. Those abusive words and teachings and ideas leave the church in the hearts and minds and Moleskine notebooks of every church member and are spread throughout society like an infectious disease. 

The church is not the only source of this disease, again, but it is a powerful one because battling it means battling ideas and perceptions about God (something I will discuss more in my guest post for Rachel Held Evans later this week).

A church that claims to worship a man whose purpose was “to set the oppressed free” should be horrified to learn that its teachings are being used by abusers to support abuse.

Is it though? Are our churches concerned about how their messages are received? Are our churches concerned about abuse survivors? Or are they more focused on so-called sound doctrine and on giving “grace” to abusers?



Do Gender Roles Cause Unrealistic Expectations for Relationships?

I wrote a guest post for Kevin Olenick about how the gender roles I learned in a Joshua Harris book put an unnecessary amount of stress and pain on a previous relationship.

When my last boyfriend and I started getting more serious about our relationship and were wondering “Where do we go from here?” we decided to seek some counsel from books. So I went to the Christian bookstore on my Christian college’s campus and picked up Boy Meets Girl by Joshua Harris.

Now, my ex and I had both grown up in fundamentalist-learning churches, so we’d heard the basics about gender roles before. But never had we heard about gender roles with an emphasis as strong as what we found in that book. So, thinking that we had been doing everything wrong for our entire relationship, we attempted to follow the rules that this book put forth.

He would be the strong, masculine leader.

I would be the vulnerable, feminine, helper.

Instead of being ourselves, instead of continuing the journey we’d already started toward learning who the other person was, we both tried to see the other (and ourselves) as Man or Woman, as defined by Joshua Harris.

Read the whole post here!

Complementarian evangelical leaders like to pretend that their view of women is something other than exactly what it sounds like. They like to pretend that feminists (with our silly, womanly emotions) are just overreacting, misunderstanding, or twisting their words.

“Real” complementarians practice godly, Christ-like leadership. They don’t dominate or abuse their wives. Feminists just don’t understand what’s really good for them–they don’t understand that complementarianism isn’t about a hierarchy. It’s just about separate roles.

“Equal, but different,” as Mark Driscoll says.

Apparently, this “difference” is enough to keep women out of leadership roles in the church and the family, and often enough to keep them out of the public sphere altogether. Equal but different. Separate but equal.

Of course, it’s a woman’s “choice” to submit to her husband’s leadership. A choice that will be judged by an almighty God with a history of striking people dead and sending them to hell.

But sure, a choice.

Women “choose” (under the threat of Almighty judgment) to submit to their husbands, who lead them lovingly and gently. It’s all good.

They’re still equal.

But, you see, no matter how nicely complementarians say what they believe, a phrase from a George Orwell book always comes to mind:

“All animals are equal, but some animals are

more equal than others.”

Having “liberated” us from the way popular culture and media objectifies, degrades, and oppresses women, complementarian leaders can now objectify and oppress us in other ways with nicer words (and with support from God).

Centuries ago, Christian men such as Martin Luther preached the same beliefs of submission and headship, without the pretense of believing in equality.

The beliefs have not changed. They’re just wearing a mask.

Changing the way we talk about those beliefs does not change their implications.

I want to expose “equal, but different” for the lie that it is.

So I’m going to be doing a short series on the words of a few complementarian leaders, showing how, despite their claims of “equality,” their views degrade, oppress, control and limit women.

I want to talk about Joshua Harris, John Piper, and Mark Driscoll this week. To make this subject less painful,  the leaders will be represented by a puppy, a parakeet, and (of course) a fluffy bunny (respectively).

I may decide to continue with the series beyond that (but long time readers of this blog know how I get with series). If anyone has suggestions of other sermons/books/blog posts by complementarian leaders that reveal the inherent inequality present in complementrianism, or if anyone is interested in writing a guest post on the subject, feel free to tell me in the comments (make sure to include a corresponding adorable animal). 

Because, I believe that, once you strip away the bullshit, the motto of complementarianism could be:

All humans are equal, but some humans are more equal than others. 


So, what about the men?

1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted by age 18.*

1 in 33 men will be experience completed or attempt rape in his lifetime.*

52% of gay men will experience coercion from a partner*

22% of male prison inmates will be raped during their incarceration**

Out of all the victims of murder by an intimate partner, about 1/4 are male.***

Even as victims, men who leave abusive female partners have a high risk of losing custody of their children.****

And, even though it is estimated that men make up 10% of all rape victims, they are the least likely to report sexual assault**


These numbers don’t get mentioned very often, and this can leave male survivors feeling isolated and marginalized. Men suffer from rape and domestic abuse, just as women do.

But I rarely hear people talk about it.

This certainly isn’t to say that we should be putting less energy into ending violence toward women. But we need to remember that male survivors of abuse are also silenced by gender roles…

Roles which suggest men cannot be raped by women because men should always want sex.

Roles which suggest women cannot rape men because women don’t have their own sexuality.

Roles which expect men to be strong enough to “avoid being victimized.”

Roles which view women as weak and frail, and therefore incapable of committing domestic violence.

Roles which assume that even an abusive woman is, in nearly every circumstance, a better nurturer for children than a man

Roles which stubbornly view all men as potential abusers, and all women as potential victims.

Roles which completely ignore same-sex relationships.

When we cling tightly to these gender roles, men suffer. Legitimate problems are ignored. Roads toward improvement remain unpaved. Survivors either keep quiet in fear or they are silenced by outside ignorance.

Women, as we fight for equality, let’s not forget that our brothers are also being hurt by the strict gender roles that society has set up. And let’s do what we can to help!

–Let’s start including the above statistics in our discussions.

–Let’s be careful about making universal statements that enforce negative stereotypes (you know, “All men are jerks!” and the like).

–Let’s be careful about placing pressure on men to always be strong, to always be leaders, to always be protectors…never humans.

–In fact, let’s break the stereotype that says only men can be protectors. Let’s let the men in our lives know that we’ve got their backs!

–Let’s show the men in our lives how much we love them and value them.

And men, we hope you can find freedom. But until you do, just know that we’re here for you. We love you.

You’re not alone.






Stop breaking off pieces of yourself in the name of Biblical manhood or womanhood!

“Play your position!”

I’ve read this illustration many times: ” If a goalie on the soccer team spends all his energy trying to score a goal, he hurts his team because he’s not playing his position.”

True, true. Great advice.

But then they continue. They always continue. “You’re a woman. You don’t need to be doing man’s work. You’ll hurt your family if you’re out pursuing a PhD instead of caring for your children. You’ll hurt your family if you are being ambitious toward your own goals rather than supporting a man’s ambition.”

Some of you don’t believe me. Some of you think I make this stuff up. I would like to direct you to CBMW.org. Spend a few minutes there and you’ll see that I am not exaggerating. The rest of you already know what I’m talking about.

It’s good to play one’s position. But what should determine one’s position?

If I were a soccer coach, I would observe my players and learn their talents–find out which position they would best fit into. I would probably also take their desires into account–find out which position they would be most passionate about playing.

I would not, however, say, “All the people with brown eyes can play defense. All the people with blue eyes can play offensive. You, with the green eyes! You play goalie.”

To do so would be disrespectful to the abilities of my players. I would not be utilizing their talents for the benefit of the team. I would instead be deciding for them, based on physical factors unrelated to soccer, that they must some how form their talents to fit certain positions. That would be silly.

Yet the church  often tries to do that with gender roles.

If a man and a woman get married, they might hear their fellow church members trying to coach them: “Hey, you with the penis! You’re the breadwinner and the leader. You with the vagina! You take care of the children and support your husband. Now, play your position.”

Regardless of the woman’s actual abilities, we stick her at home, in a submissive, supporting role. We put her in the goalie position, even if she can kick that ball into the net like none other. Even if the man has no desire or talent to be a leader, we make him team captain and expect him to score some goals.

And this, this is what hurts a team.

You know how they say, “Marriage is not 50/50. It’s 100/100.”?

When we enforce gender roles, neither member of the relationship can truly give 100/100.

The man must break off any pieces of his life that don’t fit into the tiny box that is “manhood.” He must set aside any talents, desires, personality types, or spiritual gifts that don’t fit the mold. His wife must do the same to squeeze into the tiny position that she has been afforded by the church.

And what happens is, both end up only giving half of themselves.

Instead of two full people merging their lives together to become one flesh, we see two broken halves of a person, trying to glue those broken halves together and make them one cohesive relationship.

It’s time to step outside our gender roles and be ourselves.

It’s time really play our positions–the ones that God, not the church or society, assigned us when He gave us our individual talents and personalities and desires.

It’s time to give 100%, rather than holding back on the impact we could have in the world.

Let’s stop breaking off pieces of ourselves in the name of “Biblical” manhood or womanhood.


Sick of being “miss represented”

I watched a video today that made me cry.

That’s saying something, because my tear ducts are fairly selective about who they work for. I didn’t even cry on The Lion King (and yes, I do have a heart, thank you very much).

But this video, a trailer for the film Miss Representation,  made me cry, in sadness and in anger. In desperation and in frustration. I sincerely hope you’ll take the time to watch it:

This video made me cry because it hit so close to home.

The video observes:

“Girls get the message from very early on that what’s most important is how they look…and boys get the message that this is what’s important about girls. So, no matter what else a woman does, no matter what else her achievements, their value still depends on how they look.”

As one young lady in the video says, with a hint of desperation in her voice, “There is no appreciation for woman intellectuals.”

I’m a 21 year old woman intellectual. I’ve made it through 3 years of college (thus far) in an intense degree program. I’ve won debate contests. I’ve written and presented research papers. I’ve had articles published. I want to write books. I want to get my PhD. I want to join the Peace Corps.

And yet, I still have to fight to get the world to appreciate my brain and not just my boobs.

From junior high, when I was told by several friends, “Sarah, you’re pretty. You could have so many boys if you didn’t act so smart and scare them away. You can be smart, just don’t act so smart.”

To the ex-boyfriend who convinced me that I was worthless so that he could treat me like a sex object.

To the Sunday School teacher who looked me in the eye and said, “Why are you even bothering to go to college? A woman’s place is in the home.”

To now, when I’m told fairly often, “Oh, you want to get your PhD? That’s good, because all the female professors I had in college were ugly. You’ll actually be a pretty one.”

I feel weighed down by the idea that my brains, my talents, my gifts and abilities are not enough–will never be enough. Unless I can get through another 10 grueling years of school and still look as young and pretty as I do now at age 21, unless I can somehow afford fashionable clothing, make-up, and hair-stylists on a graduate student’s salary…

It won’t matter.

To the world, I’ll just be another “ugly” professor.

I am sick of this. I am damn sick of this.

I’m sick of hearing people put down the intelligent, hard-working (and beautiful. More that just pretty) female professors that I look up to just because  those professors spend their time writing books and winning academic awards instead of getting their hair done and reading fashion magazines.

I’m sick of hearing news reporters ask Sarah Palin if she’s gotten breast implants (would a professional reporter ask Mitt Romney if he ever uses a penis pump? Didn’t think so) or compare Hilary Clinton to a nagging wife when she stands up for issues she cares about.

I’m sick of men being taught that their masculinity is at stake when women make achievements. I’m sick of men growing up to believe that the measure of their manhood is how much power they have over the women in their lives.

And I’m sick of the media– from magazines to music videos to the daily news–reinforcing all of these ideas.

I’m sick of this misrepresentation.

I’m ready for a change. Who’s with me?


Is the church a few steps behind?

I’ve never heard a pastor talk positively about the feminist movement.

But when I read my Bible and see verses where Jesus tells Martha to get out of the kitchen and sit at his feet like a disciple, and when I see verses where Paul tells men in an oppressively patriarchal society to love, serve, and sacrifice for the “property” known as their wives, I can’t deny it…

Jesus is all for setting women free.

Jesus is all about overthrowing society’s power structures.

I don’t believe I should even have to join the feminist movement.

Picture sort of related.

I should just be able to go to church and feel empowered and freed by Christ.

But, actually the opposite is true.

I go to church and feel weak and small. Feel limited and “less than.”

I hear that I’m “equal but different.” And I am reminded of a quote from the book Animal Farm.

“All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others.”

The church I grew up in glorified the stereotypical 1950s family model. Father knows best. Mother vacuums in pearls and has dinner ready when Father gets home (I actually sat through a Sunday school lesson in 7th grade in which the teacher told me that if I didn’t do this when I grew up and got married that my husband would cheat on me and it would be my fault. Awful).

But even the more progressive churches I’ve been to seem hesitant to grant women “full human” status. They let women work outside of the home, but they still don’t want to let go of the false gender roles that have limited women for centuries.

Society has a long way to go when it comes to treating women as equals, but I feel like it’s decades ahead of the average church. I don’t feel like property in society. I don’t feel like a lesser being in society. I may have to work harder than a man in order to be taken seriously, but at least I feel like I have a chance at succeeding.

Society has evolved (and is still evolving) when it comes to equality among the sexes. But churches remain a few steps behind.


Well, we don’t want to look too much like “the world.” We’re supposed to be different. We’re supposed to come out from among them and be separate. We’re supposed to be a peculiar people.

Good points.

But we’re getting it backwards!

If we look at the New Testament in its historical context, the Church was never a few decades behind culture.

It was a few steps ahead.

Paul didn’t write his letters to a bunch of women in a feminist society, putting them in their place.

Paul wrote his letters to a bunch of men in a patriarchal society.

Paul didn’t make a command when he told these men to be the heads of their households. Paul made an observation. They already were the heads of their households.

But he told them to be heads of households like Christ was the head of the church, specifically referring to Christ’s sacrificial submissiveness and humility.

This was unique and crazy and radical back then. Not because it was old-fashioned and out-dated.

Because it was ahead of the times.

The church shouldn’t be waiting on the sidelines while society moves toward equality. The church should be the starting players.

The church should be leading the way.

Needs to be.

Because I’m tired of having to rely on feminism to make me feel like I am one with Christ Jesus.

And because as hard as society tries, sometimes it misses the mark. The feminist movement needs redemption as much as anything else in this crazy world.

I’m going to talk more about that tomorrow. Until then, leave your comments and let me know what you think about the idea of the church leading society instead of slowly trailing behind it. Even if you disagree, I’d love to hear your thoughts!